Monthly Archives: November 2011

Got To Do Something

On Wednesday November 30th 2011, the UK will see the largest outbreak of industrial action for over 30 years.
On Thursday December 1st, I expect everything will be largely normal and life will go on in its own random way.

Here’s why I think Wednesday is important and before I dive in, a quick warning. I’ve done my best to acquaint myself with all the various “facts” surrounding this issue but I’m not remotely infallible so you may disagree with some of what I say. I’m not going to focus on facts in this piece anyway because others have already done that more skilfully than I ever could. I just want to share some impressions and feelings.

I’m sick to death of this club of odious buffoons we call a Tory Government. Before the election, I banged on until I was blue in the ears that if the Tories got into power they would asset-strip the nation to line the pockets of their wealthy chums. Bing! I said they would dismantle the public sector they so despise. Bing! And I knew they would consider unemployment a fair price to pay to support their economic goals. Bing bing bing!!!

In the end they limped into office using the LibDems as a kind of zimmer frame to help them past the post. I recall a reasonably chucklesome running gag pre-election about “Nick Clegg’s Fault”. Not so funny now, eh? I’m ignoring LibDem values in discussing the Coalition, but that’s OK, the LibDems are too. It’s a Tory Government plain and simple.

I want to see the Tories gone and that’s all there is to it. I don’t have much time for the “New” Labour Party but their brand of fairly rubbish governance at least quite often tries to do the right thing. I can never forgive Blair for going to war in the face of by far the largest demonstration of public opinion ever seen but even he would be fractionally ahead of any of the current bunch of Tories in my list of preferences. That really is saying something. The Conservative Party will wreck this country and it needs to be stopped.

But how do you “stop” a government? 3,000,000 people on a single march failed to so much as ruffle the hair of Tony Blair. Not a sausage. (Maybe if we’d all shifted 800 metres east instead of occupying the tranquil vastness of Hyde Park…)

The Occupy Movement won’t bring down the Government. At least not by itself. It has already achieved more than a great many campaigns and who knows what the future holds but it isn’t currently a mass phenomenon. Incredibly widespread, but not mass. Also, Occupy has its sights set on a different (though not unrelated) target. The concentrating of wealth in the hands of the already wealthiest is sadly a global activity which is no respecter of national boundaries. It’s a disease which is only just being diagnosed and for which the cure is still being worked on.

A symptom of this disease, however, is the position taken by many national administrations (although ours seems to be particularly relishing it) that says public spending must be cut and deficits reduced to restore market confidence. “Market confidence” – a usefully impersonal term that suggests impartiality and objectivity. It’s the only arbiter of what should be done, according to every politician and mainstream media commentator I’ve heard in recent times. One by one “The Market” is losing “confidence” in Greece, Italy, Spain, maybe France. The borrowing rates set by “The Market” increase to a ruinous level and the country is forced to default or make changes (austerity budget, unelected technocrat govt) to restore “Market confidence”.

Always “The Market”. Not History, which tells us that high public spending and consequent high deficits are indispensable in recessionary times. Nor common sense, which can see that withdrawing funding at times of great social need is a recipe for despair and unrest. And who is “The Market”? Well, it’s the financial institutions (banks for inexact shorthand) who also happen to be the major creditors of national debt. Which by itself might put the banks in quite a strong moral position were it not for the fact that the primary reason for the recent explosion of national debt was the financial crisis of 2008, precipitated by utterly daft behaviour by the banks. Or “The Market” if you prefer. Sheesh.

All of which stupidity brings me back to the Conservative Party who, to be fair to them, are not the party of the welfare state. Or the NHS. Or “The Working Man”. The NHS makes no sense to a Tory mind, obsessed with individualism and private business. So they’re doing their best to see it off. The Tories have also allowed a perfectly reasonable enthusiasm for enterprise and entrepreneurialism to be contorted into a vicious distrust of any employee seeking to better his or her lot. Private or public, an organisation, to Tory thinking, must be all and only about delivering value to the owner. When he was trying to get elected, David Cameron once spoke of “happy companies” where a good and productive balance was attained. No more. Whatever his own views are, or have ever been, he is now content to see unions vilified and public sector workers lampooned for their “cushy jobs for life” and “gold-plated pensions”. The Tories have therefore come to the conclusion that they can sufficiently demonise the public sector in the eyes of an underpaid, under-protected private sector to justify raising a few quid for the banks by raiding the public pension pot.

This is it: We need some money to give to the banks (deficit reduction) so where can we take it with least complaint? Public sector pensions are unpopular with a lot of non-public workers because they have rubbish pension provision, so let’s have it from there. Banks happy (Market confidence), non-public workers happy (schadenfreude), public sector unhappy (but we’ll say they’re whinging ingrates).

And if everything is as normal on December 1st, maybe that plan will have worked. But if enough people realise that the Tories are out to asset-strip and dismantle, that it’s all about helping out the banks, who are largely responsible for the mess in the first place, and that not all private sector workers are self-obsessed ignoramuses, then the action on November 30th may carry weight and resonance sufficient to dent the Government. National strikes are one of the few things that governments really fear. As such, they’re incredibly hard to organise legally. Pension negotiation is one of very few issues over which widespread action is feasible. So the nettle needs to be grasped. The strike needs to be committed and massive, to the extent that it can’t be ignored or spun by the hateful Tories. And it needs to be supported by the wider body of decent society. I don’t work in the private sector and although I’m hard-pressed, I’m not poverty-stricken. But I stand for what I think is good in this country and against everything that seeks to dehumanise, commodify and splinter community. That’s why I support N30.

If you’ve got this far, well done and thank you for reading. 🙂

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More Hippies Needed

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This evening a deadline came and went, marking the commencement of legal action by the Corporation of The City of London to remove those parts of the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s Cathedral which are on Corporation land. The process will be as unspeakably tedious as that sentence and will take much longer. In itself it is unlikely to be a significant factor in the longevity of the encampment. However, it’s a sign of the will of the Corporation. They want the camp gone and probably for a number of reasons.

The most common publicly-stated reasons are access to the “highway”, safety and sanitation. There have been some comments about a negative impact on tourism and, recently, dark mutterings of drinking and drug-taking. All of these are red herrings.

There is no “highway”; there’s a path and people are to-ing and fro-ing along it with no obvious difficulty whatsoever. As far as safety goes, the campers have been meticulous in following the advice of fire safety officers, who have said they have no concerns. Sanitation is always a difficulty when you’re out and about in London and don’t have 20p for a station coin-op. However, a bit of careful planning and judicious use of portaloos seems to be working for folks at St Paul’s. I’d expected to be able to find the camp with my nose the first time I went there but nothing of the sort. Any stories you may hear about protestors pooing on the cathedral steps are nonsense.

Tourism? Who knows? There may be some timorous types who feel that a trip to St Paul’s can’t go ahead because they’ll have to walk past some tents. I’d argue that if you’re prepared to shell out £14.50 for a look inside, it’s going to take more than some campers outside to deter you. For anyone with any imagination, the chance to witness a bit of current affairs would be a nice garnish on a tour of historic London.

The final red herring is the stinkiest of the lot. Yes I’ve seen people at Occupy London who were drunk and caught the occasional whiff of not-quite-tobacco. Call out the army! Panic! Head for the hills! Up until now no-one in London so much as had a fizzy drink. These Occupiers are dragging us into a moral cesspool. Can I stop yet?

What no public figure wants to say, but many of them more than likely think, is that the worst thing about the Occupy London camp as far as they are concerned is the type of person it attracts. Hippies, punks, dossers, loonies… Not what they think London should be about. Well the truth is that the Occupy movement attracts all sorts. Description is impossible. The effort that is being put into accommodating different ideas and backgrounds is truly mammoth. And hangers-on are inevitable. The presence of a friendly welcome and a free cuppa is bound to attract homeless, rootless, itinerant types and why shouldn’t it? The Occupiers aren’t simply railing against the status quo; they’re also attempting to live in a better way and that means reaching out with respect to anybody who passes through, be they a tramp on his way to Waterloo or an investment banker on his way to a City dining room.

I’m not a hippy. I lack the survival skills and ability to function without creature comforts. However, I love to be around friendly, caring, genuine people and as such I find the camp at St Paul’s is my favourite place to be in London at the moment. Especially in the bleak, soulless stone and steel canyons of the City, it is an absolute oasis of humanity and reality. If you get a chance to visit, please do. And if you see Boris, tell him you’ve come on holiday to London to see the protests and be part of history.

If you move fast, you should still be able to watch “Confessions of an Undercover Cop” on 4OD. It was a fascinating doc, not entirely without flaws, but one point came across very strongly. Mark Kennedy, the Met Police officer assigned to gather intel on the hardcore environmentalist movement, “went native” because he realised that the people he was infiltrating were far nicer human beings than the people he was working for. Simple as that. Boris, Theresa and the Corporation may not like “hippies” but I tell you what: I’d rather be a hippy than a ****.

Be good, stay at home

So, the revolting students were back in town (copyright: every newspaper). Once more the nation’s thinking classes descended on the capital to vent their rage at a series of moves that seem designed to saddle them with either massive debt or huge bills when they finish studying.

And once more they were met by a policing operation the likes of which you might expect if the Earl of Somewhere was getting up an army and demanding the throne. Vast numbers were amassed and pre-emptive threats were issued. The clear message was, “if you take part in this march we will regard you as our enemy and treat you as such. Furthermore, we’ll make sure your future gets kyboshed as well. So stay at home.” No, really: look at this

Such scare tactics are despicable and signify a worrying move towards the criminalisation of dissent. At a time when Freedom and Democracy are being portrayed as the worthy objectives of our foreign military adventurism, the Government seems to have no appetite for them at home.

The police tactics on the ground included an early deployment of riot equipment and widespread use of “undercover” officers (in reality, absolute sore thumbs). Horses and dogs were also reported to have been used (not undercover).

The march passed off entirely peacefully, with the exception of some confrontations with police. There was clearly no intention to cause significant property damage (unlike last time when Tory HQ was chosen as a totemic target).

So was this passivity because of, or despite, the police operation? Well, who knows? But in a sense, that’s a side issue. The real question is whether or not we want to live in a society so unsure of itself that it has to bully those who disagree with it. Or are we prepared (like the Occupy movement it must be said) to embrace dissenting voices and do the hard work required to move forward in a constructive and adult fashion?

For Whom The Bell Trolls

A few more thoughts arising from the Occupy London demo:
I mentioned in an earlier post that Social Networking enables access to a far wider range of viewpoints than tends to be covered by conventional media. This is nowhere more true than in the discussions that coalesce around a topical hashtag such as #occupylondon or #OccupyLSX. The purpose of a hashtag (just in case you’re new to this) is to enable people with a common interest to participate in discussion, chat etc about their chosen topic.
However, wherever bridges are being built, trolls will lurk.
“Trolls”, in Social Networking parlance, are people who join in with discussions specifically to disagree with the prevailing view or to stir up confusion or fear. In some cases, such as #OccupyLSX, the trolls end up swamping the discussion to the point of obliterating the hashtag’s original purpose.
Now of course discussions such as these are supposed to be all about open and honest debate, frank exchanges of views, tough democracy. Different points of view are to be expected and encouraged. But believe me, it’s not hard to tell the difference between trolls and genuine participants. The Occupy movement and the vast majority of its sympathisers are characterised by politeness and willingness to debate the issues. Most comments about the encampment are obviously based on firsthand experience. The naysayers, on the other hand, frequently appear quite out of touch with what’s actually going on, dealing in lazy generalisations and stereotypes and resorting to childish insults when questioned. It’s also fair to say that, for the most part, they betray quite breathtakingly bigoted views to the extent that calling them right-wing would be an insult to right-wingers.
Up to a point it’s quite good sport to engage in a bit of back-and-forth with these types and some people make a pretty much full-time occupation of “troll hunting”. Ultimately though, it’s a bit depressing, wading through endlessly retweeted bile and nonsense to finally wind up in some EDL infested cul-de-sac. “Don’t feed the trolls” is probably one of the wiser slogans in cyberspace. Maybe they’ll go away if we ignore them. Here’s hoping hey?